There are thousands of articles on the internet that deal with explosive power – but I find that most I’ve seen are isolated to one of two forms.
They either push max effort training with big lifts (powerlifter style), or they push Olympic lift variations and advanced plyometrics, usually ripped fresh off of elite athlete programming.
In truth, I’ve worked with many clients who fall somewhere in the middle of the grid.
These are clients who may not have ever been high level athletes when they were growing up, but still demonstrate decent conditioning and strength levels from the foundation they’ve taken the time to build by training with me.
They’ve been training for a while, and would use explosive, athletic training methods, not for pure performance, rather for the fitness benefits they can provide as another tool in their toolbox.
People like this are more prevalent than you think; you may even be one of them.
And it’s very likely that it’ll take a different approach to progress you to eventually mastering the advanced stuff.
This stepping stone should help bridge the gap in an effective, safe and useful way, while still getting all the benefits of training explosively.
But remember – if you’re still struggling to master the basics, it’s high time that you move on to the next article.
The truth is, explosiveness is, and should be respected as, an intermediate to advanced capacity. There’s too much hype around the fast twitch muscle fibers that people often don’t ingrain the fundamental movement patterns using controlled tempos first.
That’s why choosing your first explosive movements to practice and master should be done carefully. Loading a barbell to do a clean and jerk involves several phases and is the most complex movement you could attempt. Limiting the amount of phases to a lift reduces the amount of cues necessary for the explosive exercise at hand.
Exercise 1: Dumbbell Snatch
The dumbbell snatch is a smarter place to start when compared to the kettlebell snatch or barbell snatch, because the movement is much simpler to execute. It also teaches transfer of force from the ground, through the trunk and up to the top of the movement.
Though this article isn’t intended to be deeply instructional and rather list appropriate exercises, here are some takeaway form cues to ensure you’re staying safe:
- Pretend someone’s standing right in front of you. The bell shouldn’t stray far ahead, rather should intend to “graze your clothes” on the way up.
- Let the arm be the last thing that moves. Start the lift with your body to generate force and momentum. That’s what will enable you to go heavier as you progress.
- Finish with the weight over the midline – not over your shoulder. Remember, your body is conforming around the dumbbell creating a straight path.
- Don’t be afraid to jump. You can also “stomp” on the ground to properly time your catch position. Just make sure you leave the ground in the right synchronization.
For a visual, check out the video below.
Exercise 2: Plyometric Push Up
The simplicity of this movement is what makes it so effective. As an added bonus, no weight is needed to get the benefits of doing it. It’s important to remember that the type 2 muscle fibers are the focal point here (actually, in all of the moves in this article), which will influence the rep ranges you choose. For more, see the points below:
- Use full range of motion, and let the hands leave the floor on each rep.
- DON’T CLAP YOUR HANDS. It’s a common practice but one missed rep will likely equal a broken finger and result in being sidelined until you recover. It’s not worth the risk.
- Remember to stop your set upon technical failure. Not muscle failure. After 10 or 15 seconds of effort, the muscle fibers you’re trying to train begin to drop out of the lift anyway. There’s no point of doing sets of 20 or 30 reps, even if you can.
- Brace for impact. Your goal should be to land as quietly as possible on every rep. I’m just shy of 260 pounds, and in the video below, you’ll note the execution of this.
Exercise 3: Box Jumps
Once again, only bodyweight is needed for this movement in its most basic form. Many people get so preoccupied with jumping and going for increased vertical height that they forget (or never learn) to properly land and dismount, which is even more important.
It goes beyond just throwing yourself onto a platform and coming back down for reps. For proficiency, remember these cues:
- Take your time in everything that surrounds the explosive component of the lift. There should be nothing speedy about anything other than the jump itself.
- Keep rep ranges low. This isn’t conditioning – it’s power development.
- Try to land like a cat. The louder a noise your feet make on the box, the worse you did.
- Step off the box – don’t jump down. Create a staircase with other equipment if the box you’re jumping on is too high to step down off of in one stride.
Exercise 4: Bounding
The emphasis when bounding forward should be to think of the ground as being “hot”. Spending too much time on the ground between reps will make it difficult to transfer your forces. Assisting this action with a strong arm drive will make things easier.
Making a goal of keeping a full rear leg extension on every stride will make you cover more ground and complete your force output for each leg.
Covering anywhere from 25-50 meters is a good place to start. Use a high knee lift.
Exercise 5: Kettlebell Swing
The swing is often mistakenly used as a prerequisite to the deadlift. Understandably, many lifters think that since a lighter implement is being used (a bell compared to a heavy barbell), the deadlift must be the exercise to progress towards.
In truth, it should be viewed in the opposite way. Having a good kettlebell swing relies on being proficient at the hinge pattern at slower speeds – like the speed the conventional deadlift is typically practiced at.
One More Thing: Use Contrast Sets
To bridge the gap between training for explosive power and training for muscular endurance, I’ve found using contrast sets is a great introduction, as it allows fresh muscles to get the benefits of lifting weights, while creating a hybrid set with explosive movements after.
To do a contrast set, you choose a primal pattern like a squat, deadlift or bench press, and perform a loaded set, immediately followed by a very similar movement pattern done completely unloaded and explosively. An example:
|1a. Barbell Back Squat
|1b. Bodyweight Full Squat Jump
The idea here is to “trick” the fast twitch muscle fibers into over firing when unloaded. By the time the weight is put back in the rack the body will recruit the same amount of fibers it used to perform the loaded squats prior.
It’s important to use full force during each jump. Other ideas would be pairing a bench press with plyo push-ups, or deadlifts with standing broad jumps.
It’s not brain surgery to build a good program to get your explosive training off to a good start.
Looking at how much you can subtract from a complicated program is often more effective than looking at how much you can add to the program you’re currently on.
With that in mind, even a little change can make a big difference – so don’t sweat it if you’re not doing hang clean and jerks with the cool kids. You’ll probably stay healthier for longer if you take this step first.